Interview: Bliss Cavanagh – Studio Bliss
I sat with Bliss Cavanagh in her recently opened space Elysium, which is like a wonderland of furry delights, bright colours and comfy armchairs. It’s a whole new world. Along with Elysium Bliss has been selling weighted toys, furry delights and more of her wares over the last three years as well as taking her art to different locations. So how did Studio Bliss begin?
“I started my business through Renew Newcastle about 3 years ago. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing but I knew I wanted to create sensory installations and I was starting to get a few commissions. I really wanted to take my art into a more professional space. It was a really great opportunity for me to establish myself in the community as well as have a retail shop, a gallery exhibiting space and a place to meet clients. About a year ago I graduated from Renew Newcastle and I moved to this shop which is much bigger, I’ve got more studio space and it’s allowed me to combine my PhD and my business.”
The spaces that Bliss creates are not only vibrant and beautiful but also beneficial to a person’s mental health. Bliss lives with Tourette syndrome but has found that environments like Elysium, and creating those environments, can alleviate her tics and reduce stress.
“All of my artwork and creative processes are drawn from living with Tourette syndrome. It was during my fine art honours year at the University of Newcastle that I decided to embark on my own sort of journey to create my own sensory art environment. I created these sculptures and patterns with bright colours and different textures which all came together to create this sort of experiential space that whilst I was immersed in alleviated my tics and stress. It was such a wonderful, liberating time for me because before then I wasn’t really comfortable about telling people about having Tourette syndrome. During that year I was able to come to terms with it and see that was the best part of myself and my art and that was what drove me to create these types of works. I became a strong advocate for positive promotion of Tourette syndrome because there’s not a lot of that. It’s been a wonderful journey for me as a person because I’m so much more confident and happy, I’m completely different to how I was before that.”
Bliss has realised from people’s reactions and comments that many people seem to benefit from her style of sensory environments. She’s already completed her honours and now she is completing her PhD based upon that theory,
“My PhD is about art and sensory environments and how these can be combined to create a new innovative facility that can potentially improve people’s mental health and well-being as well as reduce stress. I’m trying to bring sensory therapy to the general population because I really believe it can benefit the community as a whole. I’m working on ideas like how the senses are universal to all of us so why wouldn’t sensory therapy be beneficial to all of us? It’s about using art as that bridge to create this new accessible space that people feel comfortable to come into.”
“It’s about supporting mental health and well-being as well, by having the facility that people can access they’re already supporting themselves. The art component is important because sensory environments exist but are very institutionalised and hard to access for people who feel they may benefit from it, so I’m using art as the thing that brings it to the general population. So not only are you coming in to see an art installation you’re also benefiting from it.”
Elysium is a wonderful, relaxing place. Bliss already has stories of people who have fallen in love with the space and a growing book of positive feedback. Over the next few years she will conduct studies in the environment to see how people’s stress levels are and if they are benefiting. I felt instantly at ease within Elysium and know I will be back. Bliss’ PhD study is greatly dependant on stress management and she strives to create these environments to be all inclusive,
“Certainly over the last few years as I’ve been developing things for specific needs that I take into account more practical things like spaces between objects, dangers of some things like if someone pulls on it, making sure things are accessible for people using wheelchairs and kids. I like to sit on the ground and make sure things look really great from below as well as up high. I’m trying to bring in all the different aspects of experience and make sure I’m really encapsulating all of it, I want to try and bring in all of the different senses. Like if you close your eyes you can still benefit from the space, you can still touch things, listen to the music and smell the fragrance.”
Bliss’ art consists of a lot of flowers with a strong emphasis on nature. Walking into Elysium is like looking through the world with Bliss’ eyes, it’s refreshing and beautiful. Both Bliss and her mum, who works in the shop as well, are both friendly and open, which helps make the space more open. Bliss’ personality shines through in her artistic style,
“My artistic style, it’s abstract. I love flowers. I’ve always been an obsessive doodler of flowers, whenever there’s a pen in my hand I’ll be drawing these ridiculous flowers everywhere. I find those shapes are really soothing, you follow them and it spreads that feeling through you as well. There’s a lot of research that support nature as being relaxing, it’s very strong for reducing stress especially in hospital environments, healing facilities, places like that. It’s very important that people can get access to these things that can help reduce your stress and anxiety, if we can get that from nature or even an image of nature why shouldn’t we utilise that? I’ve tried to do that in my PhD by drawing elements from nature, from colour and from sensory therapy to create this experiential space.”
For her PhD Bliss has three supervisors: one from Fine Arts and two from Health Science working together. The research she is working on is very unique and experimental,
“It’s a very strong cross disciplinary approach and we’re trying to create something new by drawing from the two faculties by showing there are alternative ways to create healing spaces and environments, that artists should be working with health practitioners and there’s lots of opportunities to get more involved. People are much more receptive when they come in here [Elysium], they feel they can relax and talk more freely. There’s a lot of late nights and work involved because there’s not only this creative fun part, but there’s also the writing and the research of the PhD so it’s great to see it’s already happening. It’s nice to be able to have that input along the whole way of the PhD rather than at the end. It’s great to be able to share the journey along the way.”
The wonderful thing about talking to Bliss is she is so confident and driven by what she does. She has support from her mum, her partner who helped create the Furry Delights video and Renew Newcastle who have supported her business. With her PhD underway the future looks bright for someone as dedicated and enthusiastic as Bliss,
“It’s what I’ve always wanted, it’s always been my plan to go to uni and find something I’m passionate about. It’s turned out to be so much more than that, it’s so deeply rooted within myself with Tourette syndrome, the art and the business – it’s so intertwined. It’s my life, there’s no other options. I hope to continue with it, that the benefits are positive and there is a need for this in the community and I can provide that. I would love to take these spaces and put them all over Australia. It’s what I want to do. It’s going to happen, I have no other option.”
Studio Bliss is open Wednesday through to Saturday, 10am – 4pm. Along with Elysium Bliss also sells weighted toys, sensory lights and funky lamps. The Elysium space is open to everyone and is free of charge. It’s a beautiful, unique experience and I would love to describe the experience but I feel it’s something that should be experienced in person while it’s here. It’s spaces like Elysium that make Newcastle special and funky.
“Elysium is a space that’s here and it’s open to the public, I really hope that people do come and use the space. It moves towards improving people’s quality of life by providing a unique and therapeutic sensory-art experience that promotes control and choice, giving us more accessible opportunities to support our mental health and wellbeing and create happiness.”
Keep up to date with Bliss’ art adventures through her Facebook page.
Interview by Jodie Millard on behalf of Culture Hunter.
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